Learning to like classical music

September 13, 2017, 12:27 PM · Hi all,

I'm having a new roommate moving in with me today. I'd like to slowly have him appreciate classical music so I can blast it from my speakers in the future without any complaints. How would you introduce classical music to a friend?

Do you only select certain repertoire that's easy to "understand"? For example, if you were to put classical music appreciation into a curriculum, how would you arrange the repertoire?

Replies (37)

September 13, 2017, 12:37 PM · Choose something easy to understand and not overly long. Like the Händel-Halvorrsen Passacaglia for example. A fun recording. Maybe Perlman and Zukerman, they make fun together and eventually bring a breathtaking perfomance together.
September 13, 2017, 12:38 PM · Get yourself a good set of headphones. That way when your roommate wants to blast their rock-n-roll, you can demand that they use headphones too.
September 13, 2017, 12:43 PM · And closed ones ;)
When I use my open Headphones my wife complains in the next room.
Btw, this was what I ment:
September 13, 2017, 12:48 PM · Well, he's willing to listen to classical, so I'd like to make the most out of it. I just don't want him to be completely alienated and think it isn't for our generation. (It is!)

I love that piece. Thanks Marc. I'll probably create a playlist of these...

September 13, 2017, 1:15 PM · Don't blast it, either now or later -- not good for the ears. Just play it.

My parents were playing classical music on radio and recordings before I started elementary school. They didn't ram it down our throats or make a big deal of it. They just happened to like hearing it. So did I.

Play what you like -- don't worry about the length or when it was written. When I was 7 y/o, I would sit in the living room -- on my own -- just about every Saturday during winter and listen to one classical album after another for several hours. Some pieces were short -- like the Rossini overtures. Others were much longer -- like Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherezade and Tchaikovsky 6.

Edited: September 13, 2017, 1:25 PM · There are so many ways to introduce classical music to your new roommate. One way is to start with those pieces included in movies, e.g., http://www.cmuse.org/classical-music-moments-in-movies/ Google is your friend, indeed!

Another way is to watch "flash mob" type videos on YouTube. Although these pieces are familiar to me, watching people moved by the live music also moves me. Sympathetic resonance of your heart string is a powerful tool to get connected with others.

September 13, 2017, 1:16 PM · Recommend short pieces representative in some way of each era ( medieval to living composers ) to show him the diversity of the genre. You can never predict what a newbie will latch onto. When I first started, I aspired to one day play difficult works by Xenakis, Bartok, and Shostakovich, and only slowly, over a period of several years, came to enjoy Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven. I believe Jennifer Higdon talks about having a similar trajectory of tastes during her formative years in an interview. My mother claimed that all classical music put her to sleep until she fell in love with the Bartok viola concerto. Then you have those who are the complete opposite, those for whom Ligeti is an acquired taste. I would cast the net wide, emphasizing that there is probably something for everybody, and go from there.
September 13, 2017, 2:32 PM · Sung Han's thoughts are somewhat similar to mine. I was thinking that playing some videos that show classical musicians really getting into their playing may help. Specifically, the one I often use is to show and orchestra playing a popular piece such as the William Tell Overture or Beethoven's 9th. This is a good example, I think: September 13, 2017, 2:34 PM · How embarrassing, I completely screwed that link up so badly that I can't even edit my post! And I've coded websites as a job in the past. Ugh! Anyway, the link was meant to be https://youtu.be/wZQVauGs6Bk


Edited: September 13, 2017, 3:18 PM · Blast Boulez, Ligeti, Stockhausen... ;)
Or 4'33" before going to bed or during yoga
September 13, 2017, 5:06 PM · I wouldn't want to enforce my musical preferences on a roommate. That's what headphones are for.

Still, popular soundtracks would be the easiest I think. Like Inception, LOTR or something like it. You could also tie it to old cartoons that used classical music as well.

September 13, 2017, 6:18 PM · Something that is in your favor, is that Classical Music is conducive to a good studying environment.
September 13, 2017, 6:20 PM · Whatever you do - don't show him any Lindsay Sterling... please...
Edited: September 13, 2017, 7:50 PM · well camilla, I started off with Sterling, then Davis, then Hahn- one led to another, to another, and now Bach and Mendelssohn are my favorites and filling my ipods. And, on my to play list.
Edited: September 13, 2017, 8:42 PM · I'd say start him off with super romantic pieces/composers like Tchaikovsky and Dvorak. These types of composers are pretty easy to enjoy, and their music is pretty accessible to most people. Stay away from typical stuff like Eine Kleine, Beethoven 5 mvt 1, and other pieces that everyone can sing the tune to, but don't know the name of. I think that those types of pieces would be too boring and old.

EDIT: I never really liked classical music until I listened to Dvorak 9. That symphony blew my mind, and still does.

Edited: September 13, 2017, 9:15 PM · Pick movies music, any, often people don't realize they're listening to classical music almost every time they watch a movie and they would tell you classical music sucks if you'd ask, but somehow don't perceive movie music as classical!
September 13, 2017, 10:42 PM · Lots of exposure to classical music, especially when your roommate is showing emotions, play the pieces that will likely echo such feelings.
September 14, 2017, 4:14 AM · I had a work colleague, who, in the earlier '90s, was regaling us with pop music on his radio. When Classic FM started broadcasting, he tried it, and took to it, so for a number of years we were serenaded with classical music instead (plus the inevitable adverts - though one or two were brilliant).
You could try playing a commercial radio station that broadcasts classical music.
Edited: September 14, 2017, 4:41 AM · You might be re-inventing the wheel. There are lots of classical music albums already out there, many of them available on Spotify, that are designed for non-classical-music-lovers. Classical music for sleeping, for jogging, for playing to your fetus, etc. I remember receiving as a gift, a long time ago, from a student, the album "Mozart for Morning Coffee." Nice collection of short, peppy pieces.

I also agree with John that radio stations do a pretty good job of curating their playlists and knowing what's "accessible" to the average (relatively uneducated) listener. Again, there's broadcast, and then there is the huge world of streaming. And of course don't forget that not all music is all about the violin. Anything done by The Canadian Brass is going to be good.

September 14, 2017, 4:46 AM · Good call, Roger. Think of Waxman for example -
September 14, 2017, 7:11 AM · Thanks for all your suggestions. Yesterday, I started off with light chamber like Haydn and Schubert's Trout.

He still finds orchestral music hard to like. He finds it too loud and messy. I'll look more into those curated playlists, and have them play in the background.

September 14, 2017, 7:12 AM · On a side note, I recently bumped into ClassicFM. They're really great! They are also active on social media. Love it or hate it, that's how one can reach out to the younger generations --- memes and emojis. Apple had their event yesterday, and a spotlight feature of their new phone were animated emojis, "Animojis". It's pretty ridiculous.
Edited: September 14, 2017, 9:09 AM · The problem with only playing music "easy to understand " is that it accustoms the listener to "easier" music, and when approached with even a bit more daring works, they may find them "harsh." So I would balance the "easy" works with a touch of these "harsher" pieces.

Solo Cello Bach is wonderful for "beginners". Also Baroque works, like the myriad of concerti. All other Back too, but there's something both familiar and "new" about hearing the Cello Suites that newcomers like (the Solo violin works generally are not as easier to grasp or apprecciate.)

Mozart will be generally liked. Show all what Mozart has to offer, not just the piano "beginner's sonata" and the turkish march.

Beethoven is "harder" (not counting "Fur Elise"), but not a tough listen, unless you start with the Fugue.

"Easiest" to love "romantics" would be Schubert, Mendelssohn, & Tchaikovsky (not Schumann or Liszt, save the latter's "hits", like Liebestraun.) Dvorak's musical language is also very attractive, and "easier" to grasp than many (the aforementioned 9th being a prime example.)

Throw in some Prokofiev and Shostakovich, so they get used to them. Stravinsky, Bartok, etc.

Some of the more "modern" 20th century can be added in bits and pieces as well.

So in short, I feel Bach, Vivaldi & Mozart are a nice base to build love for classical on. Then add romantics, and more modern works.

(I never think of Brahms as "classical music beginner" stuff, as perfect the works can be, theoretically speaking. Even famous, "easy" symphonies like the 2nd are thick and complex. This type of complexity should not be neglected in the long run, though.)

September 14, 2017, 9:18 AM · I think that not labeling the music when introducing it is important. There is nothing inherently harder about listening to Schnitke than listening to Mozart. When someone labels "hard" music that way because they simply don't like it, it sends the wrong message. I can't even pinpoint what it means to "understand" a piece of music. Is it synonymous with being able to experience pleasure from listening to it? Or is it the ability to apply the tools of music theory to analyze a piece? It it's the latter, then most people don't even understand nursery rhymes.
On the flip side, if you introduce a piece and say, "This is great music. No other piece stacks up to this", it can either be offputting, or convince the new listener to think that the said piece is somehow "great", while something in a different style is inherently completely mediocre.
Part of what made it take so long for me to enjoy anything by Beethoven is that musicians around me constantly told me, "Beethoven's the best. No other composer is worthy of as much exalt." So I felt the urge to rebel, and felt for a while that liking Beethoven meant mundane conformity.
Edited: September 14, 2017, 8:20 PM · Adalberto,

My view and approach are quite different from yours. In fact, for listeners unaccustomed to classical music, a Bach could be the most boring, pedantic, and off-putting piece that you don't want to be associated with. Mozart is more accessible than Bach, though.

In general the more accessible and hummable the piece is, the better. In that sense, familiar opera arias and instrumental pieces with clear, charming melody lines are almost always better. More cerebral, structural, or experimental pieces can come later, if at all.

In an earlier post I suggested classical pieces in movies because they can go right to the core without too much overtures. The movie does most of the work for the audience so the classical piece therein does not have to struggle so much to move people. It was certainly the case for me in the movie "Lies my father told me", as far as the Prelude in Bach cello suite #1 is concerned.

September 14, 2017, 12:43 PM · Timothy Jayne said, "Classical Music is conducive to a good studying environment". Probably true for most, but in my case it is, and always has been, a very big distraction when studying or equivalent. One notable occasion when I couldn't do anything except endure it was when I was in London sitting a professional Finals exam in a large upstairs hall to the unwanted accompaniment of the LSO rehearsing immediately below. Brahms 4 still brings back unwanted memories!
September 14, 2017, 1:38 PM · Well, Paganini's variations are "hummable", as they were popular "tunes" in his time, but even I,as one of his most ardent fans, cannot recommend I Palpiti or Moses variations for the very "beginner" (it would make for fun times, though; especially if the person is not aware of the violin's capabilities.)

Many of the Bach cello suites are not only hummable, but already so indirectly popular many people already unwittingly "know" them. Not all Bach works are complex fugues. Some are very "easy listening", IMHO (with due respect to Mr. Müller above-there's a reason I use quotes, however.)

I also took time to accept Beethoven as "the foremost" composer. One of the most influential, yes. Most of his music is really great, though, and not that "easy" either.

I will always remember the first time I heard Paganini's Moto Perpetuo-which I practice as a sort of etude every day-was via an old Tom & Jerry cartoon. Most certainly wasn't aware of the fact, way back then.

September 16, 2017, 5:53 AM · I don't think there's a way to force someone to like anything. For most of us, it's really the prolonged exposure that makes us "like" classical music for the most part. And I don't mean 24/7 for a couple months, I mean over the course of years of studying the instrument and naturally coming to appreciate the things we do. For instance, I appreciate Piano and Violin Concerto more than I do an Oboe Concerto simply because I can really understand the technical finesse and the musical interpretation using those instruments since those two are my main instruments. So it's really about the interest that I (we?) have developed in learning to play an instrument.

Also it's generally not a good etiquette to be blasting out music so I do agree that you should invest in a good set of headphones.

September 16, 2017, 8:33 AM · Cassio finally said what I was thinking all along.
Why do we have to shove music down anyone's throat? I wouldn't appreciate a roommate trying to get me to like country or rap for the purpose of "blasting it" in the future. In fact, there's lots of classical music I'd find irritating to have to listen to. And I'm a classical musician.

And yes, get a nice pair of wireless headphones. I remember being college age, when blasting music was a way of asserting your personality. Frankly, it's immature and self-centered.

I know. I did it too.

September 16, 2017, 9:53 AM · Of course we shouldn't shove music down people's throats, but there is nothing wrong with sharing it with them and having a conversation about it in a non-critical, non-forceful way. Assessing their comfort level, and knowing when to back off is key. God forbid someone turn me on to something new.
September 16, 2017, 2:38 PM · Yes but look at the OPs original wish: to acclimate his roommate so that he could blast it from his speakers without complaint. That seems rather self-serving to me. I'm only going by what Carl wrote.
September 16, 2017, 4:01 PM · Cassio and Scott, I completely agree with you. We love to share the joy with others, but only if we can do so without being selfish. How is this possible? A tough question.
September 16, 2017, 6:03 PM · Tell your roomie that if he doesn't pick up his dirty socks you're going to play Schoenberg at him.
September 16, 2017, 6:13 PM · Buy yourself a set of headphones.
September 16, 2017, 7:53 PM · Paul, that is crossing the line.
Edited: September 16, 2017, 8:44 PM · Or play Ginastera's Toccata:
September 16, 2017, 10:05 PM · I guess the post was worded carelessly. I didn't really mean blasting in terms of "blasting at a loud volume". We recently purchased a great entry-level sound system. We also agreed to have equal access to this.

I was simply trying to find ways to introduce classical music so as to be able to play this in the future without an inner groan from my roommate. Yes, self-serving, but isn't this how music is shared generally? People get exposed to it over time from their sibling/roommate/friend/classmate, etc.? It usually starts with, "hey, this is really cool. You SHOULD listen to this..." Liking a piece of music doesn't always have to come from self-realization.

I do get what others are trying to say though--- avoid forcing something entirely subjective. I just don't think we should shut the conversation down right away either. Would that not be equally as selfish?

On a side note, my roommate was telling me the other day that he was listening to the cds I left in the player (Trout Quintet, American quartet) while I was away... Maybe I'll find him listening to Schoenberg for fun in two weeks!

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